Sunday, January 29, 2012
Top 100 movies of the 1980s: #7
7. Au revoir les enfants, 1987
Director: Louis Malle
Louis Malle's filmography would be the envy of any director. He started off with a classic (Elevator to the Gallows) and in the '60s and '70s made a number of great French films, both fictional narratives and documentaries. It's not so often that a director makes his masterpiece so late in his career, but that is indeed the case with Louis Malle and his film "Au revoir les enfants."
Au revoir les enfants is one of those foreign language films that must be seen by everyone, especially children because its message and its emotions are universal and can be understood by anyone and I think it's a film that would especially resonate with adolescents. The film follows a young boy who goes off to a Roman Catholic boarding school in Vichy France during WWII. Julien, the young boy, is just your average pre-teen kid who tries to act tough in school especially in front of other kids. This is especially true when Jean Bonnet, a new student arrives. Julien despises Bonnet and his awkwardness, but soon comes to realize that Jean Bonnet is actually Jean Kippelstein, a Jew. Eventually the two of them actually start to form a close friendship and Julien keeps his discovery a secret.
See, this boarding school has been secretly allowing Jewish students to hide at their school to avoid being sent off to concentration camps. Jean Kippelstein is one of those students that is hiding. If his cover is blown, his life could be at stake. Au revoir les enfants sneaks its way into your psyche because the child actors are so good and you soon find yourself watching, with joy, these kids sharing this friendship together. But then the film tugs at your heartstrings when the Gestapo arrives at the school to check and see if they are harboring any Jewish kids. What happens during this raid and the way in which it happens is so heartbreaking and unforgettable that you will know exactly what Julien feels as he tries to keep Jean Kippelstein's secret to himself.
A film like this can only be so good because of who is behind the camera. Louis Malle handles this film with ease, by now he's a seasoned veteran in the business and you can see him regaining his passion for storytelling with this film. After all, it's all based Louis Malle's own experiences as he was much like Julien, a young boy going to boarding school witnessing the Gestapo raid their school, searching for Jews. That experience comes through with this film and it gives it that extra added weight in a film that is already layered enough.
Au revoir les enfants is just a film that cannot be ignored. Of all the great WWII-related films to come out in the last 60+ years, this is one of the best.